Istanbul, A Prologue

52 comments
Europe, Turkey
Beyoğlu District with Galata Tower Dominating the Skyline

Beyoğlu District with Galata Tower Dominating the Skyline

Crisp winter air caresses my face, a delightful sensory sensation after a 14-hour flight escaping the tropical humidity. The sun has just started to peek into the sky a few moments earlier, leaving a warm hue coloring blocks of apartments with bright tint. The minivan goes down the highway where leafless tree branches form rows on both sides and the sheen of the Sea of Marmara enchants us from the right side – quite an atmospheric way to welcome us to this ancient city.

Minutes later the minivan runs between the ancient walls of Constantinople where slender pointy towers rise from the horizon, piercing the sky and overlooking dense old districts. The minarets are ubiquitous in Istanbul, remnants of centuries of Ottoman rule. As the minivan goes deeper towards the heart of the old districts, two monuments whose grandeur reverberate the past glory of this city emerge. It is such a magical feeling to witness Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque)  –  dating back to the 6th and 17th century respectively – sitting graciously on the hill at Seraglio Point (Turkish: Sarayburnu). The stories of endless conquests by the great powers of ancient world pervade both sites, luring people who live long after their heydays to come and marvel at their beauty. But before I get further captivated by them, the minivan turns left and crosses the Golden Horn which divides the European side of Istanbul.

After running through a Roman aqueduct, we arrive in Beyoğlu, with its impossibly navigable narrow and hilly streets and alleys. The six-centuries-old Galata Tower which were built by the Genoese is right in the neighborhood, and Istiklal Street which is arguably the liveliest street in the city is only a few minutes walk uphill. Both bear the rich history the city has witnessed since its establishment.

Eminönü Neighborhood across Beyoğlu

Eminönü Neighborhood across Beyoğlu

Daily Commuters

Daily Commuters

Fishing for a Living at Galata Bridge

Fishing for a Living at Galata Bridge

Istanbul Tram at Gülhane

Istanbul Tram at Gülhane

Sultanahmet Neighborhood, the Center of Istanbul's Old City

Sultanahmet Neighborhood, the Center of Istanbul’s Old City

The history of Istanbul dates back to 660 BC when King Byzas from Corinth (in modern day Greece) established Byzantium on the European side of the city. The name remained for nine centuries before Constantine the Great changed the name into Nova Roma – part of his attempt to introduce the city as the eastern capital of the empire. However the name Constantinople was more widely used and remained until the 20th century when the Republic of Turkey was founded. Since then the world knows it as Istanbul – a name which in fact had already been used by the Turks and Europeans to describe the walled peninsula between the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara even when it is still called Constantinople.

Strategically located at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, it is natural for Istanbul to be a melting pot for merchants and other people from various civilizations where highly-priced commodities were traded, religions were spread, and intellectual thoughts were shared. Therefore it is not surprising that great powers fought one another to gain control of this great city, and their legacies survive long after their declines, making the entire city now a living museum.

As is the case with other melting pots, Istanbul is a city of stark contrasts: Established by the Greeks but now a Turkish city – both nations have an uneasy relationship with Cyprus being the center stage of the frictions; The center of Christianity for over a millennium and the capital of the last caliphate for the next five centuries before turned into the economic center of the new secular republic; and today, it is where the secular and liberal life in districts such as Beyoğlu lives side by side with the more conservative neighborhoods of Fatih.

Perili Köşk (Haunted Mansion) near Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge

Perili Köşk (Haunted Mansion) near Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge

Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, One of the Two Bridges Connecting Asia and Europe

Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, One of the Two Bridges Connecting Asia and Europe

Seagulls waiting for Bread Crumbs

Seagulls waiting for Bread Crumbs

The Asian Side

The Asian Side

Dolmabahçe Palace Overlooked by Modern Skyscrapers

Dolmabahçe Palace Overlooked by Modern Skyscrapers

Despite its long history which straddles for millennia, Istanbul is not trapped in its nostalgic past. Networks of modern trams, metro and funiculars carry thousands of Istanbulites and foreign visitors everyday. Skyscrapers dominate the skyline of the northern districts of Istanbul, flexing the muscle of the newly rising economic power. In the next few years, both sides of the continental fringes which make the city will be connected by subterranean railways, complementing the two existing suspension bridges which enable seamless transportation between the two sides of the city.

However, there is one thing all Istanbulites is looking forward to. The thing which has always been dreamed by other countries to symbolize their growing prominence in the world stage. Tokyo did it in 1964 – the first Asian city to do so, as did Beijing in 2008 which was properly used by the new superpower to showcase its great history and modern-day achievements. After four previously unsuccessful bids, Istanbul is more confident and ready than ever to bid as the host for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

In spite of the constant development of the city, Istanbul will always retain its past charm and wisdom. Ahmet, an experienced rug seller whom we meet in his rug store rubs the first money he gets on that day to his chin and slams it on the ground as a metaphor of the seed of a tree which will grow into a money tree. Istanbul itself is indeed a tree of life for millions of people who call the city their home and the source of their fortune.

Sunset at Kennedy Avenue

Sunset at Kennedy Avenue

Maiden's Tower Sitting between Asia and Europe

Maiden’s Tower Sitting between Asia and Europe

Dolmabahçe Mosque with an Uphill Street Nearby

Dolmabahçe Mosque with an Uphill Street Nearby

Süleymaniye Mosque, the Largest in the City

Süleymaniye Mosque, the Largest in the City

Turkish Rugs

Turkish Rugs

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

52 thoughts on “Istanbul, A Prologue”

    • Thanks Meredith! Istanbul is indeed one of the greatest and most exciting cities that I’ve ever been to. More stories are coming, including a special photo essay on the cats of Istanbul. 🙂

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      • I’m going to look forward to it all – I loved that city, and though it’s years since I was there, I reacquaint myself through you modern day travellers!!! Cats sound terrific too 🙂

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      • I think it’s hard not to love the city. The fact that they introduced a more convenient way to travel with public transports helped a lot to make Istanbul a more enjoyable city.

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    • Hey Sila! It’s been a long time since I heard from you. Well, you’ll never know, maybe you’ll visit Istanbul sooner than you think! 🙂

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  1. Pingback: Istanbul, A Prologue « Aerrazi

  2. Bama,
    You have written a captivating photo/essay! The scene you described in the very first paragraph drew me right into your story. The accompanying photos illustrated perfectly. I especially like the lines created by the people, towers, and poles in “Daily Commuters” and the towers and fishing poles in the photo of people fishing on the bridge. Both of them also show something of the people’s lives, which is really what makes a city vibrant. The man and the money tree is a great little personal closing.
    Because I have a weakness for textiles, the last picture is also a favorite of mine!
    Do you write for a magazine?

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    • Marilyn,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. When I saw those men fishing on the bridge, I knew I had to take some pictures of them. Later I found out that they sell the fish to nearby restaurants. As for the textiles, you would love Istanbul as you can find rugs with so many different patterns and techniques. Some of them are quite old.
      Actually I haven’t written anything for a magazine, not even in my native language. But I would love to one day.
      Thanks again!

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  3. Beautiful pictures on beautiful Istanbul!
    Thanks for sharing them here, Bama, and I cannot wait to look at other great pictures of Istanbul as well as to hear more stories about it.

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    • Thanks Chris!
      Istanbul was one of those places that exceeded my expectations. I was also lucky on my first few days there as the weather was really nice. More posts are coming! 🙂

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  4. Bama, your beautiful descriptive words and photographs of Istanbul brought back memories of my wonderful travel to the city many years ago and gave me stronger yearning to return. I love the history, the architecture, the bazaars and the food in Istanbul. I’m sure you’ll have a great time. Try bathing in one of the historic hamams. Straddling two continents on Bosphorus cruise is also fascinating. Looking forward your other posts on Turkey. Are you going in Cappadoccia? That’s one of my favorite places.

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    • Thanks Marisol! I can see why you loved your travel to the city years ago. It truly is a magical place. Actually I have tried the hamam at Çemberlitaş, it was really nice but way too short. Unfortunately I didn’t go to Cappadoccia. I spent around 7 days only in Istanbul which gave me enough time to explore many parts of the city. One day I know I have to return to Turkey because there are so many other wonderful places in the country.

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  5. Maddie says:

    This is so amazing, I really enjoyed the photos and the historical information you’ve included! Great job with this!

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  6. I’m so happy to hear that you think Istanbul is one of the greatest and most exciting cities..
    I live in İstanbul. Your photos are awesome and there are still lots of places to see in Turkey which you’ll fall in love:))

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    • I really really loved Istanbul and I believe many other people feel the same way about the city. I know one day I have to go back to Turkey to see Cappadoccia, Pamukkale, and many more. Teşekkür ederim!

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  7. Bama.. First of all, can you blame me for being jealous? 😀 You describe this city in a way that makes me wanna go there even more. Especially when you mention that the transportation system is pretty good there.
    One question though, do the guys really make living like by fishing? I mean, it’s like they’re fishing for leisure.
    I love the photos, I love the story; and those make such a beautiful post.
    I think you’re ready to write your piece in travel magazine 😉

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    • Thanks Robin! Well, Istanbul does that to people because it is such a wonderful place with a very long history. Do you remember the Octopus card in Hong Kong? They have a similar system called Istanbulkart which can be used for metro, trams, funiculars, ferries, and even toilets. Being chosen as Europe’s capital of culture really helped them improve the transportation system.
      Those guys on the bridge really make living by fishing. They sell the fish to restaurants. But probably some of them only do it occasionally to make some extra money.
      Thanks again Robin! 🙂

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  8. Bama, your photos and descriptions took me right along with you on the journey. I especially love the shot on the ferry with the man looking up at the seagulls, and the fishermen on Galata Bridge. Istanbul looks so magical with all those Ottoman domes and minarets – those “blue hour” photos are absolutely breathtaking!

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    • Thanks James! On the ferry I chose to sit at the outdoor deck to get fresh air because I’m really prone to motion sickness. It turned out a good decision as I was able to take some pictures of those two people feeding the seagulls. Walking on Galata Bridge was actually not in the itinerary, but you know how sometimes interesting things happen when you make a detour. Istanbul should be on your list to visit for its rich history and vibrant life!

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  9. Thanks for writing this! The words and beautiful photography makes me feel as if I came along with you!

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  10. Ah Bama, this made me want to get on a flight there NOW! You know Istanbul is one of my all time favourite cities. Beautiful post and your photos are spectacular, particularly the view from across the water towards Eminonu and the night view of Sulemaniye! Are you posting from Istanbul?

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    • Thanks Madhu! And I’m glad this post tickled that wanderlust in you. 🙂 I can see why it is one of your favorite cities. It is easy for someone who loves history and architecture to fall in love with Istanbul. Actually I have returned to Jakarta one week ago – I barely had time to write when I was still in Istanbul. 🙂

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    • Thanks Lauren! If I had the chance to go back to Istanbul one day, I would be really interested in visiting in summer. Istanbul in winter was really great, and I wonder how much more interesting it would be in summer.

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  11. I love the way you write! Evokes the exact feeling of the place 🙂 BTW, I saw Nicole up above and at first I thought you were talking to me and I was like “Wait…I never read or commented on this post”. But you were talking to another Nicole…hahaha. Silly me.

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    • Haha, well I just figured out your name earlier today actually. Thanks again! I keep honing up my writings though.

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  12. irp4niza says:

    hi bama, i just back from Istanbul two weeks ago and during my visit no sunshine at all weather is wet, all day was rain but seeing your pictures above, give a warm in my heart. kind regards,

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    • Hi irp4niza!
      That’s the downside of traveling in winter, most of the time the weather is not perfect for sightseeing. But you can see the place from a different perspective – a less touristy one. Thanks for dropping by and leaving such a lovely comment!

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  13. Ahh… Istanbul… It’s hard for not being in love with this city. Its building, its people, its food, its atmosphere, its ports, the birds, and many more. I totally agree to say that Istanbul is the Magic City. Seriously. It’s like a magic that always call me to come again, again and again. I always took a chance to see the city, anytime I had chances. I wish I could live there, someday.. nice blog, by the way.. Ngga sengaja nemu blog ini. Salam kenal…

    cheers,
    Nurul

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    • Hi Nurul. Istanbul is one of those few cities which really stole my heart. Every time I travel history, culture and architecture are always high on my list of things to see, visit and experience. And Istanbul has it all. I also had the thought of living in the city when I went. 🙂
      Salam kenal juga dan makasih sudah mampir di blog saya. Saya barusan ‘ngintip’ Jendela Fitri dan quite amazed that you’ve been to DRC!

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  14. Winter in Istanbul would have been a very different experience to the one I’m currently having here!! I have just spent some serious time reading your blog. It’s amazing and very inspiring!!

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    • I have never been to Istanbul in summer, but winter there was amazing! It was not too cold and the city’s historical places were not overcrowded. Thank you for reading my blog and for leaving such an encouraging comment, Sofie. 🙂 Enjoy your time in Istanbul!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The weather changed rapidly day by day when I was there though. One morning the sky was grey and gloomy, but by day it was clear and blue.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: [인페르노] 투어 11: 이스탄불의 아야 소피아 | 토파

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